What is Worth Your Energy

A few weeks ago, my mentor suggested I write an article on, essentially, what type of education is worth your time. While that piece is in the editing process, I wanted to write this quick…preview? Not really, it’s more of a sister piece, but the title and relation are unimportant.

Today was my first day of university classes and, to be honest, I didn’t hate it. My calculus professor is a funny, older man with a bit of a grumpy side. My philosophy instructor seems insightful and passionate about her job. She’s not afraid to make a self-deprecating joke for the sake of a laugh from her class. My French professor is also very funny, although she is blunt and stern. The only class I didn’t truly enjoy was Legal Anthropology.

The course is being taught by a Ph.D. student instead of the usual professor who is on sabbatical at Harvard. I felt some inkling of guilt as yawned while watching this young instructor flip through his beautifully designed slides. He was passionate as well, just perhaps not as eager to express it. Anyone who was willing to chase a Ph.D. in Anthropology must love the subject, but I truly didn’t feel any of that enjoyment in his lecture.

However, I refuse to give up that easily. Today was only syllabus day, which is always bound to be boring. Hopefully, the classes will get better in the coming weeks. I know I will soon regret longing for work and something to do, but I feel as though I must always long for something. Whether that is summer or midterms, my desire to stay busy may be what turned me off from anthropology already. It seems slow and thoughtful, two things I don’t usually like to pair.

Time will tell if I can stick it out. Three good classes out of four on the first try is a fantastic ratio.



What’s your tagline? I’m writing a resume for an application right now and I’ve realized that I don’t have a tagline – oops. There’s one on my Facebook page, but I’m not super fond of it. The first thing it categorizes me as is a “student,” which is not inaccurate, but that’s not how I want to be labeled when people first meet me.

So, that begs the question. How do I want to be labeled? In a recent essay, I labeled myself as a trailblazer, but to put that on a resume seems a bit too arrogant. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe this application will require a certain level of uncomfortable confidence that I have yet to master. Do I want to label myself as a marketing specialist? Not really, that doesn’t say anything about my character, drive, or ability. It just tells people that I can write ad-copy and send outreach emails. Those qualities are important in what I want to do, but they’re not the first thing I want a potential employer to know about me.

Coming out of high school, I knew I was ahead. My desire to be ahead was so profound that I had to push myself further than graduation or I wouldn’t feel good about my accomplishments. If I just received a diploma, I would feel as though I were stuck where everyone was. Drifting through school and life, completing the minimum requirements needed to get to the next stage. I didn’t even want to go to the next stage that people expected me to step into, so I had to route myself differently and I had to show that I could thrive in my chosen environment.

I’ve heard the phrase “unexpected academic” come from people who were not expected to reach for higher education but ended up becoming some of the most successful intellectuals in their given field. I’d say I’m the opposite of them. I’m the “expected academic.” That is, everyone in my life has expected me to go to college, study something brainy and complex, and then go on to change the world through my degree. I don’t think my parents ever expected to hear me say “maybe I don’t want to go to college.” I didn’t really think I would ever say that either. But then, I looked around and saw my friends in debt, dropping out from a lack of joy or financial means, or getting a degree and then being unable to get a job.

Now, I’m an unwilling student. Searching for ways to prove to people that I don’t want to go to school, not because I’m being influenced by unreasonable sources, but because I can read the writing on the wall. Going to college wouldn’t ruin me financially, but it’s not going to make me happy. Four years of a shitty high school has left me unimpressed by education and not excited by the idea of continuing it.

This resume has been hard to write. Throughout my entire process of trying to rewire my brain towards a value-added mindset, I’ve come to see that a lot of what I learned in high school is not benefiting me or my endeavors. Instead, I feel like a child again. Asking questions that I used to have the answers to, feeling frustrated at my lack of knowledge, and wondering whether the route that fascinates me is one I can succeed in.

I’m still trying to find my tagline, but at least it won’t have the word “student” in it.


A Socratic Educator

What does it mean to be a Socratic educator? What are the credentials required to label yourself as such? Well, I label myself as a Socratic educator, yet I have no credentials. I have yet to receive a university degree, attend any sort of licensing program, or been presented with a certificate detailing what I am trained in. What I did, however, I think is much more valuable than any piece of paper or four-year program could give me: I watched people who called themselves Socratic educators try to teach me and took note of everything they did wrong.

My high school was a Socratic school, but that label was truly only a marketing scheme. Throughout my four years at Moreno Valley High School, the amount of Socratic education I received steadily declined. What I was left with was a watered-down “discussion-based” school that focused more on teacher philosophy than on the student involvement. My seminars turned into lectures from instructors about their political doctrine or personal moral beliefs. Initially, this frustrated me, but I knew that I had to find a way to make the school work for me until I graduated.

Do I really have a right to call myself a “Socratic educator?” Maybe not. I think about all the people in my life that undoubtedly deserve that title, and I wonder if labeling myself as such is disrespectful to them. On the other hand, I do work in education, I do focus on discussion-based, Socratic styles of learning, and I have operated as an educator of sorts. I do believe there is more value in experience than anything else, and I lived through four years of watching my teachers fail to provide me with the education they promised.

The concept of a seminar is simple. A few rules here and there to keep the discussion calm, but otherwise, you’re free to speak as you want. Judgment is thrown away as people come together not to argue but to ask each other for a better understanding of their differing opinions. I took the best experiences I had, the best seminars I could remember, and thought about what set them apart from the rest. I wanted to focus on what seminars meant to me and how I could take the most meaningful elements and apply them in real-world settings.

I started hosting radio shows using Socratic ideas. Students who had never been exposed to any kind of discussion-based learning quickly adapted to a simple theory meant to keep the conversation productive. It was more than easy, it was enjoyable to introduce them to this kind of communication, which is more than the teachers at MVHS can say. The radio shows have been incredibly successful, airing on KNCE Taos, KSFR Santa Fe, and NPR. My most recent success with them was an award for the NMBA Best Student Journalism Broadcast on our show about gun violence.

I call myself a Socratic educator not because I think I am “deserving” or “worthy” of the title, I do it because it’s what I want to be. I am not interested in becoming a teacher or going through the grueling licensing process. Instead, I want to spread the idea of progress through conversation, through connections, not classrooms. People respond well to tolerance and genuine interaction, two ideas that seminar is based in. Being a Socratic educator has never been about shoving my ethics into the face of my peers, it’s been about asking them to consider a different point of view while I do the same. In my opinion, trying to spread that message has taught me a lot more than any lecture could.


Image credit to alignleadership.com

Too Niche

For the past six months or so, I’ve been working a lot on growth. Personal growth, web growth, social growth, professional growth, etc. Trying to formulate any kind of progress, internal or external, is a long and involved process. Lately, I’ve been wondering if my efforts are too niche and what exactly that may mean.

Since December of last year, most of my work was focused solely on alternative education. I was sure that alt ed was the niche I was meant to work in and, although I don’t think I was completely wrong, I think I was limiting my perspective. Alternative education is continuing to blossom as more and more parents, and students realize that traditional ways of “learning” aren’t actually beneficial, but this mass exodus has much broader implications.

In April of this year, I started working with an incredible alternative school in Senegal. When I went to visit the students, I did a lot more than act as an instructor. I learned a lot about poverty in Sub-saharan Africa and how western countries often perpetuate it through relief efforts. If you own a pair of Tom’s shoes, you probably haven’t really helped support impoverished people in Africa. You buy a pair of those shoes, Tom’s sends a pair to a child in Africa, sounds charitable and straightforward right? If only economics were that easy to work around. It’s impossible to compete with free, so that pair of shoes that were supposed to help end poverty just put another local African shoemaker out of business. By purchasing these shoes, you’re falling into a pit trap of western pity.

Suddenly, the depth of my own ignorance was brought to my attention. I had never bought into the Tom’s shoes model, mostly because of my own vanity (I think they’re ugly, sorry,) but I found myself sickened by the thought of how much the company has profited off of this marketing scam. I am aware that the owner of Tom’s acknowledged the problem and made an apology, claiming he had no clue that the scheme would end up backfiring so horrifically; but his apology won’t bring back the jobs he took.

As I started to learn more about economics and confronted my own lack of education on the subject, I became increasingly absorbed and fascinated by the ideas and possibilities that it held. I started writing more about economics, politics, and theory and less about alternative education. I realized that my content was no longer relevant to a lot of the sites I used to write for, and it really threw my creativity through a loop. On the one hand, my newfound curiosity for economics and how it influences human behavior was captivating, but on the other, I was still very dedicated to alternative education. I wondered if I had pigeonholed myself into a niche that allowed for minimal variation in my writing.

Is it possible to be too niche? That’s the question I kept asking myself. Had I shoved my way into a community that was so specialized in its battle for change that it was keeping me from growing? In short, no, I had not. I had every right to leave that community and stop fighting for alternative education if I wanted to. The problem was that I didn’t want to give up my interest in alt ed, it was that I began to see the push for different methods of school as a symptom of a much larger consensus; the consensus that the lives we are all living are not primarily dictated by our will. I saw economics, education, politics, lifestyles, etc. all under this umbrella of suppression of free will.

I do think it is possible to be too niche, but I don’t think it is easy or sustainable. Onc I stopped worrying about whether or not my content was relevant and started thinking about the audience I was appealing to, my content became a lot more interesting. Many alt ed advocates also battle for the decentralization of government and laissez-faire policies, topics that I was interested in exploring. Those people didn’t want to read about education 24/7, just like I didn’t want to write about it 24/7. Most people want to see the connections between all of these ideas and form a network of compatible concepts.

Regarding marketing, niches are useful. If you can appeal to a particular idea or group of people, you have a much better chance of building an audience quickly. However, those groups are limited not only in scope but in readers. To create an audience that will last, it’s smarter to use niches as a foundation and expand your content from there.

Start with a niche, build content for those ideas, become familiar with concepts that are compatible with them, and start expanding. Soon enough, you’ll appeal to more than one niche and your content will be on an exponential curve of relevance. Very few people participate in one niche exclusively. There are more than enough opportunities to integrate your ideas into several groups of people. The challenge is patience and perseverance.

My Education Led to Extreme Insecurity

Yesterday, I had a phone call with a person I am interning with. Talking with this person often makes me nervous because I’m pretty invested in their project. When I started researching some of the ideas behind the initiative, I saw that a lot of the concepts were in line with values I had held before getting the internship. Getting the opportunity to work with this person is a chance to direct my efforts towards a project that means something to me on a different level. So, I was reasonably on edge.

However, after I hung up and started writing down what we had talked about, I wondered if that was all that was making me feel awkward. We spoke very briefly on the subject of education, but the few words we exchanged made me wonder if my school might have a role in how stiff I sound on the phone, and in general.

My boyfriend often makes fun of me for my “fake” voice. Even when I’m around friends, I tend to use intonation that just isn’t genuine. I don’t know if I would call it a defense mechanism, but more of a mask. It’s easy to speak in a slightly higher pitched sing-songy tone, especially when communicating something awkward or confusing. Still, I ask myself why I think it is more comfortable and if it actually works against me more often than not.

I reflect on all of the people I know that have used a similar technique to blunt hard conversations. I remember disliking them more than most others because I felt like they were not giving me the respect of speaking to me like an adult. Instead, they would slip into a chipper attitude and speak as though I were a child. Plenty of teachers come to mind when I think of these people.

Suddenly, the puzzle pieces were falling into place. My parents had rarely cooed or gushed over me when I was a child, so my first experience in public school was really strange. I remember being really upset when a teacher once asked me if she needed to “slow down” her words so I could understand. Even in primary school levels, I realized what it felt like to be talked down to. How did I come to adopt the vocalization patterns that the people I resent used on me?

In many ways, I think it leads back to conformity within the school system. My fake voice habit is a side effect of extreme insecurity and nervousness that developed while going through school. I have been relatively open about how ridiculously tyrannical my education was and the many negative scars it left on me. Being ridiculed and punished for speaking “out of turn” or questioning information presented to me made unconsciously seek out complacency and acceptance. My fake voice developed as a mask to hide behind while I dealt with abuse and neglect from a school that only cared about the test scores I gave them.

Extreme insecurity might be a bit, well, extreme of a description. I don’t think my uncertainty extends very far into my life, but it is quite prevalent in my communications and interactions with people I admire or deem valuable. I know that this may come back to bite me someday. My fake voice might piss off the wrong person and leave my name on some interning/hiring blacklist. I do take comfort in the fact that I am aware of its origins and why it was necessary for me to acquire it.

In my opinion, the education system does an abhorrent job at making students capable of marketing themselves and being confident in their abilities. I don’t blame teachers for this, I think they have been confused about their roles and systems for a long time. However, a good starting place would be to stop talking to children and young adults as though they are six months old. An even better place to start would be treating all students with the respect of a colleague or team member. It is insane hypocrisy to ask for communicative high schoolers that have been treated as subordinates their entire lives.

In the end, the phone call went well. I’m truly ecstatic to be working with this person because, as I said before, I am a firm believer in many of their ideas. I was grateful to just be offered the opportunity, but now I know that I need to prove how much I can add to the project if I want to see any kind of future there. But those ideas are much farther ahead. For now, I understand that this is a product of a destructive environment and I can overcome it. I just might sound a bit fake in the process.



French Variation

Around 11:30am EST, I drove onto the island of Montreal, QC with my father. I’ll be living here until July 25th to participate in a ballet intensive. I came a few days early to set up a bank account, get my McGill student ID (yes, my picture did turn out awful), and get my social insurance number for when I move up here permanently in August.

We’re staying in a VRBO until I can move to my long-ish term apartment, so we went down to the Marche Jean-Talon to get some groceries. Montreal summers can be brutal, but we were lucky enough to arrive on a mild, breezy day. As we walked down the streets next to the market, I thought about the parallels between Quebec and Senegal, another French-speaking place I visited recently. I also noted how French colonization had influenced both areas differently.

For reference, Senegal was a French colony until 1960 when it gained independence. In places such as Thies and Saint-Louis, the architecture and culture mimic French style very clearly. Much like Montreal, becoming independent didn’t mean losing the French lifestyle or development, it just meant political and economic freedom. The difference lies in how each country has changed since becoming its own nation.

Canada has undoubtedly had a much longer time (93 years longer) to expand its economy and form its political system than Senegal has. Canada also has a much more diverse economy, with lumber, fishing, and oil being just a few of its many resources. Senegal really only has its fishing industry and phosphate, a mineral that many westerners travel to Africa to mine and sell. Canada has little regulation and restriction on trade and business relative to Senegal, which has made it very difficult to export/import and nearly impossible for an average citizen to become an entrepreneur.

There are certainly more aspects that make up the difference between these countries. Just their geography alone has a great influence on the relative wealth of each former French colony. The fact that Canada is technically still within the British common-wealth probably helps as well.

I’m no expert on either country, but my thoughts often wander to these ideas when in a French-speaking country/province. I think my history classes definitely neglected the scope of influence that French colonization had on the world. The education I received focused mainly on England and, while the English obviously had a giant impact through exploration and expansion, other countries such as Spain, France, and Portugal also established themselves as countries of expedition and growth during the same time.

My blogs usually come down to this idea, and maybe I’m nitpicking here, but this is yet another flaw I see in traditional education. There are never enough school days to develop a thorough understanding of any period of history. In homeschooling/unschooling environments, students have the freedom and time to learn as much about anything they want without sacrificing the exciting details for the big ideas.

But that’s just my opinion.




Doing Others Work

I spent the majority of my day creating three separate spreadsheets to organize the courses I’m allowed to take at my university. Yes, I took my time to sort them into terms, class days, registration numbers, and class times. I did this because the list of approved freshman courses had no options to filter through the classes, making registration – an already frustrating process – even worse.

I’ve already written about my initial struggles of registering for classes in my blog Registration, but I had no idea the depth of my problems when I wrote it. I have created at least four separate schedules that have all been disrupted due to classes filling up, teachers leaving, or other students taking priority. I decided to make these spreadsheets so I could create 10-12 possible schedules for both my fall and winter term. As a freshman, I have the last registration date, meaning that I will most likely get stuck with classes I am not incredibly happy with. I wanted to minimize my boredom and the amount of time I spend in classes, so I decided to take the majority of the process into my own hands.

However, I don’t think I should have had to make those spreadsheets. Every category I used to sort my courses could easily be converted into a filter system on the approved courses page. I sat there, wading through class after class, putting every single one into the schedule builder to find it’s code and times and days. I felt like an idiot. Ever since I enrolled at this school, I have done more work than ever before and have been paying to do it.

I thought a lot about how I would optimize my university’s website. Because of its range of students and degree options, it has a lot of different pages that students need to access. It’s great that the university has worked so hard to have all of the information available, but it is not easily accessible. I remember finding pages a few months ago that I cannot seem to find again. The maze of hyperlinks and PDF files that every new click takes me to is overwhelming. This lack of structure, organization, and efficiency has left me feeling disillusioned, yet again.

A lot of people have questioned my doubts about college, blaming them on “manipulative” friends, people I admire who I “could never be,” and “propaganda.” When I look at their concerns, I see legitimate care in the form of less caring remarks, but then again, I also see my time already being wasted by an institution of higher education that claims to be “different.” Just the fact that I have to make 10-12 backup schedules to make sure I get a course load I can live with is ridiculous. I have been shoved to the back of the priority line and told to be grateful for it.

So far, I am unimpressed. I can’t get over this idea of losing priority or being considered lower in comparison to more senior students. I worked for four years to achieve some level of respect, only to have it stripped away in the name of security. Security that doesn’t even exist anymore! No wonder college students are so depressed and weary. After dealing with borderline bureaucratic tasks such as registration for four years, all we will have to show for it is an insufficient degree, low wages, and student loans.

It’s becoming a lot harder to see my money and time being drained by a system that has made it clear they don’t care about me and won’t care about me until I’m a senior. I went through this once before, and I am less than eager to do so again. Maybe I’ll finally snap and leave college, or perhaps I’ll stick through it for four years and leave the burden of my student loans to people who are more than willing to pay for them. It will all come down to this fundamental question: how much is my sanity worth?